It’s always interesting when we find players who pay close attention to kit matters.
For example, when he was at Manchester United, before every game Wayne Rooney used to check which exact combination the club would be wearing, to aid his visualisation, but he never went so far as to suggest a fundamental change to the strip, as Ruud Gullit did when he was with PSV Eindhoven.
In a passage from his book How To Watch Football, Gullit explains the influence he wielded in altering the club’s look.
When I got to PSV, I instantly understood the importance of what Cruijff had said. It wasn’t that PSV wanted to become champions; no, it was imperative that they won the championship. There was no other option. And the responsibility for that mission lay with me. They made that publicly clear at the start. How I handled the pressure was up to me.
Thankfully, PSV is a quiet, friendly club, and so I had little difficulty making my presence felt; in fact I may have been a little overzealous at times. I piled all the pressure on my shoulders and took on the weight of responsibility of winning the league. I wanted to win so much, to be champion, to fulfil the expectations, that I involved myself in every minute detail.
I even got them to change the kit. PSV used to play in red shirt, black shorts and red socks. To me it looked ugly: so depressing, so dark, it radiated none of the strength and freshness I wanted. So we switched to a new kit: red shirt, white shorts and white socks. It send a powerful signal to ourselves and the opposing side. We felt bigger and stronger.
Funnily enough, when Bill Shankly took Liverpool away from white shorts and socks in the 1964s, he felt that the all-red made them look bigger and stronger. Proof, perhaps, that any kit-change can be a placebo once the message is strong enough?
In any case, with the new ensemble, PSV retained the Dutch title in 1986-87, Gullit’s last at the club, and they won the European Cup in 1987-88 (they lost the toss for choice of colours in the final, wearing all-white against Benfica’s all-red).
Gullit moved to AC Milan, where he would win European Cups in 1989 and 1990 while wearing white socks (they lost the 1993 decider wearing black socks, with Gullit omitted due to the three-foreigners rule). Milan’s switch to white socks had come in 1986, the year before his arrival, though.
At subsequent clubs Sampdoria and Chelsea, white socks were already favoured and, after taking over at Newcastle United, he attempted a similar switch during the 1998-99 season. The club reached the FA Cup final, losing 2-0 to Manchester United in their first game in the new kit.
After Gullit’s departure, the experiment was reversed. While PSV have reverted to black shorts with their red and white striped shirts, the white socks remain.